*A Disclaimer… this post is long, filled with my opinion, and has nothing to do with weddings. It is perhaps a controversial topic but none the less something that has bothered me for quite a while and needs to be said. Constructive and intelligent comments are appreciated- overly negative, rude, or ignorant comments will be deleted*
It’s interesting really, in a country filled with opportunity, education, and wealth (even in a downed economy) how quick we are to judge and even scrutinize good intentions. When we started this charity wedding effort people were skeptical of our motives and some still are. We expected that and made every effort to be as transparent as possible in order to prove that we were actually doing what we said we were doing. We are just two people though, two unknown people, and in today’s world where people fake cancer to get donations or various other disgusting scenarios it is completely reasonable for people to suspect that we might have just been trying to scam a cheap wedding or in some other way take advantage of the generosity of our vendors. I am never the less amazed by this attitude that is quick to find fault in people just trying to do the right thing.
Each Sunday I spotlight a certain charity or cause and they are always well received. They are by far my favorite posts to write and those that I am most excited to share with my readers. As much as I love weddings, they are really just the bridge that allows me to discuss charitable organizations. So this Sunday when my post was published I was as excited as ever. Something unexpected happened. Almost as quickly as it posted, I received a comment that there is a certain scandal surrounding the charity I had spotlighted: Central Asia Institute. (I do not fault the commenter, I was glad to be made aware of the information.) Information had come to light that they may not be spending their money appropriately and that much of the information presented in the book (Three Cups of Tea) was actually made up. Almost as quickly a similar statement was made on Twitter. So I immediately made my way to Google to do some searching of my own. It turns out there is a law suit by two women who bought Greg Mortenson’s book and subsequently donated money to his cause because they feel that their money was not used appropriately. Another book that I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Three Cups of Deceit was written by a well known author and former donor to the CAI dismantling the details of Mortenson’s book. Instantly on the slightest notion of negative press, people are quick to jump on the band wagon and without regard for the core mission that continues to be fulfilled, continue to make a mockery of years of progress and good deeds.
Men carrying roof beams to build a school in Pakistan.
Ironically this was not the first time this has happened to me. When we started the process of our wedding we selected a charity, Camp Soaring Eagle as one of the beneficiaries. After writing an email to a local media outlet, explaining what we were doing and telling them about CSE, I received a response back that said they were unwilling to publish anything about this charity due to the fact that they had unquestionable business methods. Shocked and disappointed, I wanted to believe it wasn’t true, but because I also didn’t want to support a charity or tell other people about a charity that had unquestionable practices I spent nearly a month trying to learn more. I asked the person the source of their information which they could not provide but they suggested I contact the local agency that basically keeps track of non-profits in the area and makes record of any bad practices. I contacted other media outlets, the charity watch dog group mentioned above, and various individuals and not one could provide a single fact suggesting this charity had bad practices, in fact no one even had one negative thing to say about the group. Relieved, I finally contacted CSE to tell them about the wedding and about the negative rumors that could easily hinder their mission. Now that I have had the opportunity to volunteer with the organization, to see the children’s faces and to hear them laugh I know that a comment like that, taken as fact, could have ruined the opportunity for these kids to have a good time. If I had decided not to investigate the statement, the Camp would have lost out on thousands of dollars raised through the wedding process. More importantly, several children, children with cancer, children whose siblings had recently died of cancer, and various other children with various other diseases may not have had the chance to go to camp.
The group of kids at one CSE Session
Just recently, a campaign was launched against Tom’s Shoes suggesting that the shoes are doing more harm than good, that there are much better and more needed items than shoes, and simple handouts cause people to lose their dignity. The campaign called, A Day Without Dignity, is a play on words to the Tom’s Shoes campaign, A Day Without Shoes. Much like Greg Mortenson and the CAI, Tom’s Shoes began with the good intentions of just one man. The need and the response was much larger than Blake Mycoskie could have ever expected when he made it his priority to help children get shoes. One of the points made by the opposition was that they asked several people what they needed and not one said shoes. However if you grew up in Africa or some remote village in South America and had never heard of shoes- would you know that you needed them? If you had no idea that your children were sick and dying due to bacteria and disease picked up through the soles of their feet due to lack of shoes- would you consider shoes a priority?
A child from New Orleans who just received a pair of Tom's Shoes.
While I fully support investigating the practices of charitable organizations and being fully educated on their true mission as well as how money is spent, I can’t help but be saddened by the way it is playing out. Such malicious campaigns that twist the slogans and titles of charitable organizations make it seem like they are just trying to create publicity for their own agendas, perhaps their own pocket books and not so much like they are trying to educate the public. Perhaps there are more needed things than shoes, but isn’t it better to be giving shoes rather than nothing at all? Perhaps Greg Mortenson didn’t build as many schools as he said, but even if he built just one, wouldn’t the difference he made be worth it? I do not condone lying, stealing, or creating a fictitious front to gain donations, but is such a public attack on these group’s efforts doing more harm than good? A non-profit organization’s whole mission is to help others and by attacking them, it is their beneficiaries that are truly suffering. Would it not be more productive for these opposition groups to find some way to team up with the organization, and work with their good name to achieve the same goals? That is assuming that these opposition groups really are trying to help people. Could a group or individual who thinks there are better options than shoes, create a charity that provides those items? Is a group who threatens the livelihood of an organization that educates women, willing to take its place if they put them in a position of being unable to continue their progress?
Young girls receive new uniforms in Pakistan
The CAI has been in operation since 1996, Three Cups of Tea was published in 2006, and Tom’s Shoes also began in 2006. Why now is there a sudden interest in their motives? If people really wanted to provide truth why not investigate these organizations when they started?
The question is- are we just a bunch of naïve individuals, quick to give to any organization that seems to be doing good because it makes us feel good therefore requiring the need for these opposition groups? Or are we hindering the progress that is possibly saving lives due to some sort of bitter skepticism that exists anytime the word charity is used? I don’t know how the CAI lawsuit will turn out or if they are misusing funds but the fact of the matter is, no one does at this point. I don’t know if Tom’s Shoes are a low priority item in the countries they serve, but if I can spend my money on shoes that do more than just cover my feet, then I will.
I might think that people are just trying to do their due diligence as other supposed charitable organizations have had fraudulent practices and have stolen donor money. But when I read things on Facebook condemning those who donate to foreign countries when there is so much need in our own suggesting that those other lives aren’t as worthy of help due to their nationality, makes me think there is a greater problem at hand here. Do people not realize that such public attacks do not just hinder the progress of the organization in question but all charitable organizations in general as people become more and more skeptical about giving? Do people not realize that an attack on an organization is in turn an assault to each and every donor that ever supported it? Is it not better to give to a foreign country, than to give nothing at all?
For now I choose to give both organizations and the many others suffering similar fates, the benefit of doubt. I choose not to latch on to one negative comment or one negative piece of information and let it negate any positive progress made. I choose not to deem anything I can pull up in a Google search as fact. I choose not to judge or demean the benevolent acts of others despite the need that might exist in my own neighborhood. I choose not to let rumors impede the progress of organizations trying to help others. I choose to encourage acts of charity, big or small.
Photos via CAI, Camp Soaring Eagle, and Tom’s Shoes.
You can read CAI’s response to questions recently asked by 60 minutes here as well as read another account by an individual who has traveled to Pakistan and has met Greg Mortenson. There was also this article published in the LA Times that might provide insight into the other side of the story.